Payson Mayor Kenny Evans this week received a fresh, virtually unanimous mandate from voters as work on several major initiatives reaches a critical stage.
Evans received 2,835 votes as he ran unopposed for a third, two-year term and the town dealing with the frustrating negotiations with Arizona State University moving to a critical phase, construction set to start on the Blue Ridge pipeline in June and a $25 million telemedicine grant education in the final cut for federal funding.
Voters in the mail-in election also returned three incumbent counselors to new, four-year terms, with all three also running unopposed.
Councilor John Wilson earned the most votes — a total of 2,471. Next came Michael Hughes with 2,448 followed by Rick Croy with 2392.
Evans received about 91 percent of the 3,105 votes cast, which included more than 100 write-ins. The council members each received about 77 percent of the vote, with many voters casting a ballot only in the mayor’s race.
Town election officials heaved a sigh of relief when they tallied the ballots. They feared people might vote in the mayor’s race but not for all of the town council candidates. If one council candidate had racked up less than 50 percent of the votes cast, the town would have had to have a $40,000 runoff election — for an unopposed candidate.
Evans said he felt he could not step down with so many critical projects on the line.
“I think what it says is that a very high percentage of folks who truly believe in the initiatives we have started in relationship to rural health care, in relationship to the pipeline, in relationship to business development — are in fact the very prescription that the Town of Payson needs as we move forward.”
Evans also serves on the board of the Mogollon Health Alliance, which has applied for the federal grant to link Rim Country doctors with specialists and medical centers in urban areas.
Evans conceded that the accumulation of delays in striking a deal with ASU to build a 6,000-student university campus here complete with job-producing spinoff businesses has worried many locals — especially business owners hanging on through the downturn.
“I think they have anxiety — but it can’t be nearly as great as the anxiety that I have,” he said.
After years of back and forth negotiations, ASU has proposed an intergovernmental agreement that would give it essentially free rent on a campus, plus all the revenue from the dorms, which could amount to $7 million annually.
The Rim Country Educational Alliance is investigating whether it can afford to meet ASU’s proposed terms. The group is negotiating with a private, specialized academy that could bring another 1,000 students to town together with enough extra revenue to make the deal pencil out.
In addition, the Alliance has reportedly been working on financial projections to determine whether it should instead seek a deal with a different university.
Evans said many people have expressed frustrations with the delay in bringing a university to town, but most understand the situation when he has a chance to sit down and explain it.
“I would say they understand once you sit down and present the information so they realize both the scope and magnitude of this project. They say ‘yeah, we understand.’ But I think there are a number of people who have had — and still have — unrealistic expectations,” Evans said.